Monday, October 12, 2015

Family History and Legend of Courtesy Lost


He said he would do it--- and he did. He plunged his short sword into Emperor Calígula. He rid the Mediterranean world of a tyrant. He executed the assassination and shed the blood of a beast till death. Cassius Chaerea. His name appears in my book two thousand years after the event. And there is no one around entirely like me to honor the one who was entirely the man Cassius Chaerea.

Caligula
My family originated in America from Louisiana territory, vast French property sold by Napoleon for $3 million to the just formed USA.  In the few years before Pearl Harbor, the whole lot moved to California. They moved across an entire continent. Fathers and mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles and great-grandparents. Families with surnames DeCuir, Bell and Porche transplanted themselves anew. They left New Orleans’ parishes for cities named Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco.They succeeded. Aunts and mothers raised families and taught in schools and sold stock. Fathers played music, built houses and sold insurance. 
So my blood is inherited south---French, English, Scottish, black African---Indian and Jewish. I call it gumbo and praline. That’s cornbread and grits when Grandma talks French to Aunt Sue in the kitchen.   

Alexis and Cornelia Porche on their wedding day.
Papa my Jewish maternal great grandfather had been a cotton broker and raised two families. He’d laugh uproariously while tossing dish candy out the window to his daughter’s grandchildren darting about in the yard below. I’d count Papa’s change and buy his white owl cigars.

Papa
That world in which I used to live---when most people went to church on Sunday or didn't necessarily lock their front doors---it's vanished.
In those days fifty years ago the sun lit bright the parks and lakes of California. White clouds in blue sky were swept by wind over landscapes of brown and green. A young woman walked alone unafraid at night on Market Street in down town San Francisco.
It's not as bright these days and I take a look from a particular angle.  

Catholic University of America students at Mass
 
See, in the old days my family prayed at Catholic church. We kneeled and prayed the rosary in our home with other Catholic families in the neighborhood. Protestants let us do our thing without comment. They didn’t deprecate Catholics. Protestant and Catholic people became friends and didn’t fight about religión.
But during Jesus movement days twenty years later, together with evangelicals, I looked inside a cathedral packed with Catholics singing with arms upraised and my Protestant companions scoffed at the sight. Why?
I believe it’s an example of disregard which dwindling courtesy enables. I know it's an impossible stretch, but maybe the start of this loss of courtesy in some mysterious way began the day Emperor Caligula announced he was a god---that somehow being the hidden seed to today's school shootings and rampant drug abuse---that evil spirit keeping people afraid out of fear.
 

 

 

 
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